In the Continuum and Other Plays: Part Five

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‘POWER FAILURE’ is not only the last, but also the shortest play in the anthology In the Continuum and other Plays.
It is set in a Nigeria City where the protagonist works as well as in the protagonist’s village home where he has retired to.
Its uniqueness derives mainly from its style.
Like the play, ‘Belonging’, ‘Power Failure’ is a play written for the radio, but unlike ‘Belonging’, this play is a narrative play.
It reads like prose.
It has a clear narrative structure which is characterised by occasional flashback and suspense; techniques which are key in driving the plot.
It is also a simple play not only in the use of simple and accessible language, but also in that it has very few characters.
Odion is the protagonist around whom the other characters such as Osama (Odion’s friend), Sade (Odion’s wife), Noruwa (their son), the anonymous medical doctor (who attends to Noruwa’s unusual asthmatic seizure) and Mr Adeshola (the manager of the local electricity station).
Just as the play is a single-Act play with only six Scenes, it has a single theme captured in the tithe, ‘power failure’.
Of course the alluded shortage of electricity is only, but a metaphor of a number of shortages experienced by the Nigerian-cum African urbanites and ruralites in a dispensation authored by the colonial-capitalist reconfiguration of African societies.
In fact ‘power failure’ can quite easily be a pan on political, social, economic and cultural failures which come as a result of an imposed way of life.
An imposed way of life re-conditions the victims to forego original ways of seeing and living to adopt new lifestyles which breed various miseries.
In a sense, the narrative experiences of Odion in town and in the village can be read in an allegorical way.
The play opens with Odion back in the village where he is conversing with his uncle, Osama, over the traditional brew which Odion acknowledges as tasting better, “than all the imported beer (he) used to drink in the city” (p106).
The whole story begins here as Odion tries to explain to his uncle why he has returned from the city.
Osama cannot understand why electricity should be such an issue when he has lived all his life without electricity.
Indeed the whole play is centred on ‘power failure’.
Noruwa’s unusual asthmatic seizure dramatises the full impact of power failure. In a flashback, Osama learns of the ordeal Odion goes through as a result of his son’s illness.
He needs to be placed on a respirator, but there is no electricity at the hospital. And to make matters worse, one of the generators is not working.
If electricity is not availed in time, Noruwa’s life is on the line.
And to save it Odion throws caution to the wind and forces Mr Adeshola at gunpoint to light the hospital as if to show that the only language such officials can understand is the language of force.
It is after the above incident that Odion finally decides to leave the city and retreats to his village home.
In a nutshell, the ‘power failure’ is used as a metaphor for the many scarcities that the new dispensation has brought about.
Noruwa punctures the electricity lie by showing the many other digital deceptions which electricity brings about.
The National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) is sarcastically re-defined as ‘Never Expect Power Always’ (p109).
Even as they change its real name to National Electric Power Plc, sarcasm has it as ‘Never Expect Power, Please Light Candles’ (p109).
Even the latest name, Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) is also derided as ‘Problem Has Changed Name’ (p109).
The bottom line is that changing names without changing substance and essence does not solve the problem.
The real problem is inefficiency and ineffectiveness in all sectors of the economy and the entire social fabric.
As hinted earlier, power failure is only, but tip of the iceberg.
The consequence of such mal-functions is corruption.
It is the cancer that eats into the social fabric.
Mr Adeshola only agrees to light the hospital after realising that Sade, Odion’s wife, is in fact the daughter of his brother, that Odion is his son-in-law and that Noruwa is in fact his grandson.
This he establishes after checking with Sade.
“Sade, is it really your son who’s in hospital?” (p115).
After confirming he then says with alacrity: “Alright, let’s go to the station fast. “But as for you…… well let’s just go” (p115).
The elliptical omission is meant to be self-explanatory-to mean the couple would pay a lesser bribe because as Odion correctly notes: “Blood is thicker than water.” (p115).
Yes, it proves to be thicker than the respected Professors and the Director’s requests.
What has been promised the latter has to save the life of Adeshola’s blood before acquaintances; friends,colleagues and ‘commercial’ clients are attended to.
This is the new unwritten law of the ‘new professionalism’.
Such corruption is rampant in all sectors of the economy.
It comes in the form of ‘fat envelopes’, extortion and cronyism.
This is the type of life symbolised by power failure.
It is the generic condition of most postcolonial cities in Africa.
And worse, such dog-eat-dog social cannibalism is coming to defile the once idyllic country-side as well, as evidenced by the octopus tentacles of electric cables which herald the coming of electricity and all its attendant evils to the village; thus making Odion’s flight, but a temporary relief from the otherwise ubiquitous drudgeries of foreign-driven urbanisation.
Odion and his wife have both resigned from their jobs in town to chart a new lease of life in the village as cocoa farmers.
In the village they expect ownership of the means of production.
There their son gets cool fresh air to breathe.
The ‘country’ is no doubt the positive antithesis of the polluted, corrupt and immoral jungle called the ‘city’ whose lights lure the innocent to their death-traps.
On the whole the play juxtaposes European-driven modernity and African traditional way of life and warns that Africans can choose the Whiteman’s ways at their own peril.
The conclusion is both didactic and instructive: Africa’s future’s future lies only in returning to the way.

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